Physical education is fundamental to all education

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Sooner or later it was bound to happen to us!

Sooner or later we were going to have to face the realities of changing approaches to education ushered in by the plethora of changing technologies which are designed to make education more efficient and more effective.

So, just what has happened?!

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Our kids are getting fatter and fatter every year and are less inclined to walk to a destination which their parents were only too willing to makea few decades before.

And we, as an entire society, are responsible for the decline in the physical well being of our younger generations – those same budding personalities on whom we will depend to lead the world in the not too distant future are, well, to be perfectly blunt about it, obese!

In my estimation there are three practices which have contributed to this sad and alarming state of affairs: 1) our economy allows a veritable cornucopia of food options, and the “fun” ones are all fattening; 2) we have allowed physical education in our schools to steadily decline over the past few decades; and 3) the same technology which allows us to do our physical work with more ease also is an intellectual intoxicant in that it promotes pure mental activity at the expense of physical exercise.

As to the first practice, food in America is plentiful and diverse.

With the advent of “fast food” services we have been able to “eat on the go” for about four decades.

The danger in that lies in the preparation of those “fast” items which all depend on frying, always a danger to our health.

Now, in our past history we had a work environment which allowed us to burn off those fry-induced fat calories.

Farming and mechanical industry both required excess calories to complete the work.

Hence, there was no threat to our health, so long as we were working.

We do not have that environment today – but we still have that food preparation.

When I was teaching in Botswana several years ago, I was engaged in a discussion with someone from the World Health Organization.

His name was Thabo Ntshinogang and he made the observation that in the rest of the world poor people are skinny, but in America poor people are “very, very fat”, in his words.

I explained this contradiction by giving him a quick analysis of our American dietary options.

In short, while those in the rest of the world simply do not have enough money for any kind of food, in America it costs less to purchase those fatty foods than it does to purchase healthy foods.

The truly sad practice, in my estimation, is the diminishing place physical education occupies in American education today. In the recent edition of “The Sport Supplement”, David Del Busto points out that “since 1995, 40% of schools have cutback or eliminated recess and that that many elementary schools are being constructed without playgrounds,” in his article “Children Need Physical Education and Play.”

This fact is the most indicting of all, since it goes to the heart of the problem-we are not educating the “whole” child, a vital element of which is physical activity.

We human creatures are not a separation of the mind and the body, but rather a unity of them.

The ancient Greeks had a word for it – “synolon” which meant a single, unified, and whole organism.

Nineteenth Century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche propounded an education philosophy focusing on educating the “whole” person, as I pointed out in last week’s column.

Nietzsche used dancing as a metaphor for illustrating this point.

Briefly, Nietzsche said that “teaching the dance” is the measure of the truly good teacher because to dance requires a complete unity and cohesion of the mental and physical integration of human activity.

Developing one to the exclusion of the other seriously diminishes the totality of learning, and of living.

Finally, while I am excited about and highly praise our technological advances and achievements, we must not forget that they are sirens whose alluring melodies have the capacity to entrance the user and take that user off track.

Case after case has been reported in which youngsters not only become totally immersed in their Game Boy computer escapes, but cannot relate to the “real” world when they are not playing their games.

Hence, they see no need to play soccer or even hop-scotch.

They sit at their play stations, suck down McDonald’s fries, and the only exercise they get is going to another room to eat or to relieve themselves.

And this is the formula which yields obesity in our youth.

There are solutions, however, and the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) has developed a position statement which focuses, again, on the development of the “whole” child and at the center of this position is health and physical education.

In ASCD’s words: “Successful learners are not only knowledgeable and productive but also emotionally and physically healthy, motivated, civically engaged, prepared for work and economic self-sufficiency, and ready for the world beyond their own borders.”

As further evidence of the essential nature of physical education in the development of a whole person, ASCD specifies just what we should expect from

programs fostering physical education as follows: “Because emotional and physical health are critical to the development of the whole child, ASCD believes that health should be fully embedded into the educational environment for all students. Health and learning

* Is a multifaceted concept that includes the intellectual, physical, civic, and mental health of students;

* Provides coordinated and comprehensive health efforts that give students and staff effective teacher, school, family, community, and policy resources;

* Supports the development of a child who is healthy, knowledgeable, motivated, engaged, and connected; and,

* Is the reciprocal responsibility of communities, families, schools, teachers, and policymakers.”

It becomes painfully self-evident that those children who have no instruction in physical education or play find other avenues for their physical development, and too often that development is trapped by their Game Boy play stations and a large bag of McDonald’s fries.

Dr. Arthur G. Ogden is the Demopolis Campus Director of Alabama Southern Community College.

All his degrees are in philosophy.

He can be reached at